Ships and Seafarers in Aotearoa: The New Zealand Merchant Navy


Aotearoa New Zealand has a strong maritime heritage, but the influential role of ships and seafarers is often neglected. In this course you will investigate merchant navy history, focusing on the seafarers and ships that were the lifeblood of New Zealand’s well-being. You will look beyond the stereotype of sailors as men apart from the rest of society, to examine the influential and positive impact of merchant seafarers and shipping on the economy, culture and society of New Zealand. The course will focus on the mid to late nineteenth century through to the late twentieth century.

Target audience:
This course is for anyone interested in New Zealand social, maritime, labour and migration history, as well as those who may have family connections to the merchant navy. It will also be of interest to those who have memories of the heyday of ports and ships in New Zealand.

Learning objectives:
By the end of this course, you will be able to:

  • Understand the different ways seafarers and shipping influenced New Zealand society
  • Identify major historical milestones within merchant navy history.
  • Understand and evaluate the important connection between New Zealand seafarers and family history.
  • Appreciate why seafarers despite their importance are often neglected in maritime history.
  • Compare the many sources available, old and new, that can inform us about merchant navy history

Course outline:
Each session includes a lecture presentation with time for questions and group discussion.

Session 1

  • The Lifeblood of Empires and Kingdoms: Merchant navy origins and important milestones.
  • Company Men: The shipping companies that served New Zealand 1870 -1960.

 Session 2

  • The Call of the Sea: Seafarers and their working lives in the Twentieth Century.
  • The Fourth Service: War, commemoration and Merchant Navy Day.

Session 3

  • ‘Skinning out’ and ‘run jobs.’ Seafarers as an immigrant group
  • Standing on the Corner: Seafarers and their cultural influence on society.

Session 4

  • Protests, pay and conditions: The seamen’s union and the struggle for survival.
  • Happy memories: Remembering seafarers and shipping today

There is a short break halfway through each session and you are welcome to bring your own refreshments if you wish.

Dean Broughton is completing a PhD in history at Victoria University. His research focuses on New Zealand and British seafarers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. His Master’s thesis discussed lascars in the nineteenth century British maritime world. Dean comes from a merchant navy background and is passionate about the seafaring narrative being more prominent in New Zealand history. He also works as a researcher and tutor in a wide range of historical and political subjects at Victoria University. Dean also has close ties with the New Zealand Merchant Navy Association.

Relevant links:
School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations

For further information:
Continuing Education, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140.
Phone 04 463 6556,  Email:

Please note: Courses need a minimum number of enrolments to go ahead. If your course doesn’t reach the number required, we’ll have to cancel it. If this happens, we’ll contact you by phone or email about a week before the scheduled start date and arrange a full refund. Please check your emails regularly.